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What is Machine Translation and how can your business benefit from it

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by Eftychia Tsilikidou, Senior Project Manager at Commit Global

A question we are often asked as Language Service Providers is whether we use Google Translate in our work. This comes as no surprise as Google Translate is the most popular and well-known Machine Translation engine and many users turn to it when they need to understand a text in a language they do not speak. However, using this automated translation engine, one can quickly understand that the quality of the output can vary. Sometimes it will seem to work fine, giving results that resemble a human translation and other times the output is not at all satisfactory. But why is this happening? How does Google Translate actually work?

First, let’s have a look on how Google Translate defines itself:

Google Translate is a free translation service that provides instant translations between dozens of different languages. It can translate words, sentences and web pages between any combination of our supported languages.

When Google Translate generates a translation, it looks for patterns in hundreds of millions of documents to help decide on the best translation for you.

In order to explain the above statement more clearly, think of any Machine Translation engine as a massive “pool” that keeps inside thousands of millions of documents in all sorts of language combinations. Parallel texts, translated by humans, are gathered from different online sources and stored into this “pool”. Whenever users enter text that needs to be translated into a language they do not understand, the machine, through various processes, searches for matching patterns from the texts it contains in the pool and brings up the most relevant results based on certain statistical models. The process of creating this pool of training data is called “machine translation education” and there are various technologies in place for this purpose, with Statistical Machine Translation Technology being the most common.

Now, when it comes to high-level professional translation, Machine Translation should be examined as a very useful tool. Translation is a very complex activity that involves analyzing, interpreting and synthesizing elements of text and transferring them via the same process into another language – an ability, computers definitely do not possess, at least for the time being, no matter how many complex models they process. This is the reason why translation agencies rely largely on human translators. On the other hand, the human brain has certain weaknesses as well, as it is unable to obey to many strict linguistic rules.

Given that there is no MT in place that could imitate the function of a human brain and its ability to analyze and synthesize data, and that even human work needs corrections and entails certain weaknesses, a combination of both human input and automated translation systems could lead to some very good results.

Contrary to the very general and vast content used in Google Translate, when Translation Companies choose to build Machine Translation Systems, they can customize them based on domain, language combination and even customer specific needs. The more specific the content entered into these MT systems, the better the results.

But how can Machine Translation help YOUR business?

Our digital and global era has tremendously increased the amount of ready-to-publish content that needs to be translated into various languages as soon as possible. There is a constant demand and pressure to reduce prices, to introduce new services more quickly and effectively, to maintain the highest levels of customer satisfaction at the optimal turnaround time, cost and quality.

Machine Translation systems can help companies facing those challenges, if they are implemented wisely and offered as a complete solution rather than just as a mere translation process. Taking into account that the MT systems can be customized to meet specific customer needs, and combined with Translation Memories and human input, the time for the translation of large volumes can be significantly reduced, leading, consequently, to reduced costs. Projects that would normally require months to be completed following the traditional human translation path, can now be completed within weeks or less with the implementation of an MT system.

Another circumstance to consider an MT system as a translation solution is when you are faced with a large volume of content and need to get a rough idea in order to decide which content to translate.

However, Machine Translation Systems cannot be used for all kind of texts and in every situation.

Content that involves translations of technical documentation, manuals, software interface, help content as well as automotive, mechanical, medical and legal documents are just some examples of texts with repetitive patterns, specific styles and certain rules, which can effectively train an MT system and subsequently be used for the translation of new content.

The main purpose of technology is to ease people’s life and raise its quality. Machine Translation cannot replace human translators, since language is live and constantly evolving. However, it can certainly aid the entire translation process and, if used wisely, can provide significant benefits for both translators and their customers.

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